The Clergy: The group that lived the most comfortable life during the Middle Ages was the clergy. How comfortable was it? Let's find out.
Monks (men) - Benedictine Rule: A monk is a man who has chosen to devote his life to a certain discipline of prayer. Monks dressed in loose brown robes, tied at the waist with a cord. In 520 CE, a priest named Benedict built a monastery in Italy. The rules he established were called Benedictine Rule. According to these rules, priests could not marry, could not own goods, and had to obey their abbot. The abbot was the head or ruler of the monastery. The abbot made the rules or laws of the monastery.
Benedict's influence was very strong. Soon, all monks had to take three vows:
Vow of poverty. This meant he had to give up all his worldly goods.
Vow of chastity. This meant he had to stay single.
Vow of obedience. This meant he had to promise to obey the church and the rules of the monastery.
Nuns (women): Women could choose to become nuns. Nuns lived in a convent. In each convent, the ruler was the abbess. Nuns wore a gown, a veil, and a wimple. A wimple was a white cloth that wrapped around the neck and face. Most nuns had a far more active life than the monks. Nuns prayed, but they also spent time spinning, weaving, and teaching. They taught needlework and the use of herbs to noblewomen.
Monasteries, Convents, and Abbeys:
Monks lived together in a monastery. They prayed every day, as a group and also in private prayer. The monastery tried to be self-suffient. Monks all had jobs to do. They copied manuscripts, worked in the fields around the monastery, took care of the cattle, and made wine.
Nuns lived in convents or abbeys, which were much like monasteries, and even called monasteries sometimes. The nuns did not copy manuscripts. They did not chant or sing as the monks did. But like the monks, nuns took care of the sick, and the fields, and tried to be as self-sufficient as possible.
Although monks and nuns lived away from village life, they did interact with other people. Monasteries and convents served as hospitals for the sick, guesthouses for weary travelers, distribution centers for the needy, and storage facilities for food.
Just as cathedrals were large churches, abbeys were large monasteries or convents.